IFTR 2024 Manila, Philippines


IFTR Annual Conference 2024

University of the Philippines Diliman
Manila, Philippines
15 – 19 July 2024

Our States of Emergency: Theatres and Performances of Tragedy

Tragedy often connotes a sense of misfortune, a condition of pain, an encounter of betrayal, a state of insecurity and instability. Aristotle conceptualized tragedy as “the fall of a great man” and as an emotionally charged narrative that excites “pity and fear,” possesses cathartic properties, and involves the recognition of virtues and the reversal of fates and fortunes due to varied human vulnerabilities. 

Yet it is time to look beyond tragedy in its ancient, Western conceptions and consider how it exceeds individuating tendencies and takes stock of what we might describe, echoing Franz Fanon, as the ongoing wretchedness of the Earth. Within this ambit, tragedy may account for the consequences of unequal relationships among social agents from the global North and the global South; the disorders in the longstanding hierarchical linkages between humans and non-humans; the rise and return of political personalities that have caused the further breakdown of already delicate public systems and services; the decimation of the world’s resources amid unprecedented health crises and environmental disasters; and, not least, the destitute ways of life among the oppressed who are caught up in highly colonial, imperial, capitalist, neoliberal, heteronormative, and racist regimes. These notions establish that tragedy is neither simply about personal fate nor about, as prevailing beliefs from the Period of Antiquity go, the wrath of the gods. It is, instead, a structured state of existence and an outcome of accumulated human mistakes, caprices, and excesses. 

To these reflections on the notion of tragedy embedded in a wider socio-historical and geopolitical field, we can also add the theatre-specific need to consider the material, tragic circumstances that impact the profession. Consider for instance the precarious labor situations that have left theatre practitioners without securities and safeguards; the withering support of state and non-state entities that has forced theatre companies, artistic collectives, and their corresponding projects to grind to a halt; the occupational hazards of theatre and performance making that have led to the deterioration if not the demise of certain artists; the diverse and multiple forms of interventions—from political orders to commercially-minded patrons and sponsors—that impinge upon artistic and creative expressions. Viewed in this way, theatre itself appears as a site of tragic practices, the locus of its own tragedies.

Through an IFTR conference dedicated to Our States of Emergency, the University of the Philippines initiates a collective gathering where artists, practitioners, academics, researchers, and scholars of theatre and performance can discuss the circumstances and consequences of past, present, and prospective tragedies that we have been variously suffering and living with. An archipelagic nation situated in the Pacific Ring of Fire, the Philippines is not new to aquatic and terrestrial tragedies. Given its geographical location, it is no stranger to hurricanes, typhoons, and earthquakes. And yet, it is this same delicate placement that renders the Philippines a strategic gateway to Southeast Asia and a much-coveted territory to successive, ever mutating, and ever expanding colonial and imperial orders. Akin to many other countries on other continents, in addition to natural catastrophes the Philippines has also suffered and continues to suffer the tragedies brought forth by its complex historical encounters and political structures. Since the sixteenth century, for example, our country was on the receiving end of the violence that its conquerors inflicted on Filipino dispersed across the islands. Further, while the Philippines has successfully staged bloodless uprisings that led to the fall of a dictator in the mid-1980s and to the ousting of another corrupt president at the turn of this century, it still must grapple with the tensions between the dynamism of its social movements and the persistence of its political dynasties. The rise of the felonious Rodrigo R. Duterte to the presidency in 2016 and the re-installation of the Marcoses to the country’s highest political seat in 2022 are telling markers of these frictions.

Capturing these different tragedies in the Philippines are vernacular terms and concepts that relate to the lack of luck (kamalasan) or the malevolent destiny (masamang kapalaran) of a person, the severity and enormity of a calamity (sakuna), the weight and impact of a pitiful phase of being (kalunusan), and the pervasive presence or potentiality of danger (kapahamakan) and death (kasawian). This relay of ideas brings into focus the personal and social, the superstitious and scientific dimensions of tragedy. It also underscores how tragedy, in Philippine belief systems and worldviews, can be fated or self-made, intimately suffered or publicly confronted, caused by the forces of nature or by the doings of humans themselves. Even more importantly, it crystallizes the many ways Filipinos encounter, rationalize, and express the tragic in both thought and in deed.

This conference invites a re-imagination of tragedy as a social experience and an aesthetic encounter that relates to but importantly exceeds classical, Aristotelian legacies. It welcomes revaluations of theatrical and performative forms—intercultural performances, melodramas, musicals and mega-musicals, avant-garde practices, and post-dramatic productions, to name a few—that depict the broad spectrum of human suffering. It offers an opportunity to re-examine how tragic moments constitute and, in turn, are constituted by the fields of theatre and performance studies. It seeks to encourage discussions on how tragedies come about on the stage, in artistic and social communities, in history and society, in cultural industries and organizations. It intends to bring together those who confront assorted tragedies in everyday life and those who make sense of the depths of the darkness where we may find ourselves situated, albeit to different, varying degrees. All in all, it hopes to locate the intersecting modes of survival and resistance, the creative means to imagine the world anew, as well as the sympathetic and sensitive modes of sharing, structuring, and saving the world from planetary destruction.

We anticipate your participation as we all gather in Manila to think about tragedy as a theatrical genre or form, as a performance theory, and, not least, as an occurrence that bears symbolic, dramatic, and material effects on our private and shared lives. What are the new insights and methods that theatre and performance studies have occasioned from the 20th to the 21st centuries to rethink, reperform, and reclaim tragedy as a genre? How have theatre and performance makers utilized their talents, intelligences, and outputs to spotlight and, even more importantly, intervene in local, national, and global systems and procedures that have thrown large human and non-human populations into a whirlpool of danger, degradation, and despair? How have theatres and performances functioned as the venues and ventures that people turn to in their attempt to come to terms with the tragic realities that they are sensing, feeling, if not undergoing? Far from reveling in the miserable destinies of others, this conference is a reckoning of how theatres and performances of tragedy can sufficiently play a role in our communal efforts of responding to the world’s persistent sufferings and contending with their conditions of emergence.

The CALL FOR PAPERS is now closed. 

To register for the conference, visit Cambridge Core, Conference (cambridge.org)
To join the IFTR or renew your membership, please also visit the Cambridge Core website.

Contact Email for Conference enquiries: 
Sir Anril P. Tiatco, sptiatco@up.edu.ph (Chair)
Oscar T. Serquiña, Jr., otserquina@up.edu.ph (Co-Chair)
Jonas Gabriel M. Garcia, jmgarcia17@up.edu.ph (Assisting Chair)

Here's a welcome video from our Filipino hosts!


Stay up to date with the IFTR Weekly Digest